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2015 BEST Merlot: Selby Winery

Author: Tim Carl
May, 2015 Issue

My wines are rich but have a European style, not heavy-handed or over-extracted.—Susie Selby

 
After earning her bachelor’s degree in economics from Vanderbilt University and her MBA from George Washington University, Susie Selby initially spent time pursuing a career in marketing. But, eventually, her life-long interest in wine led her to Sonoma County, where she fell in love with the area and decided to dedicate her life to the craft of making wine.
 
My father had a passion for wine that he passed on to me,Selby says. He told me that if I could learn how to be a hands-on winemaker, then we could make a go of it and start a winery together.
 
She began her education at Rabbit Ridge, where she learned all aspects of the business and even spent time as a cellar rat,cleaning barrels and racking wine. She and her father started making their first wines in 1993, but sadly, in 1997, he died unexpectedly. Selby carried on, vowing to learn and improve as a vintner, dedicated to making something special.
 
When asked why her wines have become so popular, she first points to the sources of grapes. The vineyard makes all the difference.I have long-term relationships with each vineyardI know the farmers and they care and farm for quality, Selby says. Great wine starts with great grapes.Her wines are also distinctive because of the attention to detail, skill and passion that she brings to her work: I love Merlot and I take it seriously.Part of what makes Selbys Merlot so delicious is how the grapes are nurtured through the winemaking process. She uses a special Italian Puleo press that gently extracts the grapes from their skins after fermentation, ensuring the juice retains its complex fruit characteristics and soft tannins. Then Selby might blend in a touch of Cabernet Franc, which she finds makes the Merlot juicy with rich cherry flavors and spice.
 
My wines are rich but have a European style, not heavy-handed or over-extracted,she says.
 
Exceeding customersexpectations is one of her driving goals. Being the owner/winemaker gives me a unique position. I can make decisions quickly. I can skip a vintage if it doesnt meet my level of quality. I care so much about the wine and the business that Im able to over deliver at every level, including price points. Many of my wines are a Thursday night kind of wine, not just a Saturday night wine,she says, highlighting the fact that many of her hand-crafted wines sell for $20 or less.
 
Considered by many a boutique winery, Selby produces only about 15,000 cases annually. Even with such relatively low production levels, however, the winery makes about 16 different wines, including Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Semillon, Rosé, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, Petit Sirah, Zinfandel and even a Port.
 
When asked what winning the Best Merlot of 2015 means to her, Selby grows quiet for a moment then answers slowly: Honestly, it means more to me than anyone could possibly imagine. My dad would be proud.

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